As we approached Brett Simmons, co-writer and director of YOU MIGHT BE THE KILLER, I already sensed he might be the guy for the job of making a meta-horror. Dressed in a Back to the Future tee, blending in well with the genre shirts popular at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Brett gives off the vibe you want in someone making a self-referential horror comedy; he looks like a film fan.
Arriving a moment later, Fran Kranz has what his director will soon tell us made him right for the role of Sam; he is someone who is instantly likable.
I can’t help but steer the director and actor to my preferred city pizza spots and let them in on the secret of the flaming marshmallow dessert nearby. Jeff Schmidt and I already have so much to ask about their film, a twitter conversation between writers Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig, turned feature, and we haven’t even seen the film.
Jeff: We know the background of it coming from the twitter thread with Chuck and Sam. We wanted to know, at what point of the process in going from twitter thread to film did you get involved in it and how much involvement did Chuck and Sam, as the producers, have in the whole process?
Brett Simmons: The short and sweet version of it is, the producers read the twitter conversation and optioned it when neither Fran or I knew that was something you could do, option a twitter conversation, so, twitter world, time to get real creative. So they optioned a twitter conversation. I was involved before there was a script. I got a call asking if I was interested in adapting a twitter conversation, which was the most bizarre call I’ve ever gotten. I thought I was being punked, except, I knew that Ashton isn’t punking people anymore. I didn’t know what to say, so I asked to read the conversation, and as soon as I read the conversation, I got it. I was like, okay, I see why this is the case, I see why this is happening, this is so much more than just a twitter conversation, this is a very comedic relationship centered around being trapped within a genre that I know and love, and really presents a cool opportunity to come into the genre from a new angle, a fresh angle. It kind of felt like Friday the 13th meets Memento in a way.
Fran Kranz: Ya for sure.
BS: My biggest concern was, is there enough material in the conversation to justify an entire movie? But ultimately, once I had the job and was tasked with figuring out, between me and the co-writer, Tom Vitale, I felt like there were very specific beats in the twitter conversation that we could mine and turn into a loose structure. And then we had to write it. And then we had to make it. And once it was written, that was when Fran came on board.
FK: I read it as a screenplay. I don’t know Chuck or Sam, and at this point, I don’t want to, it’s our movie now, we don’t need them.
FK: I guess, the big challenge was making sure we kept people invested in the story and the stakes and the situation. The comedy was all there, the script was really hilarious. It was relentlessly funny in terms of this kind of self-aware commentary comedy, and just more run of the mill, slap sticky kind of stuff. There is a lot of great comedy in the script. My first conversation with Brett was that we had to make sure it can play for ninety minutes as a horror film also, that’s something intense and thrilling and suspenseful. So that was a really tricky line, finding that tone. We were saying earlier that we had a cool thing happen where, because the movie is so unconventional in its structure and the way it’s told, you begin in like, the third act of a horror film where Sam is running for his life, covered in blood, and you’re kind of at a 10. Then you go back, when we have the flashback sequences establishing the movie or the characters, in a conventional film which would be the beginning of the movie. That’s where you would probably have to be grounded to get the audience invested, but we got to go the other direction and make fun of and have fun with the characters and these tropes. So, I love a lot of the flashback sequences, because they are so funny in a way; that in a story told chronologically, you wouldn’t be able to get away with. So we kind of had to stay in close contact with one another, often between takes, whatever it was, really trying to make sure we were navigating this line correctly, or what we felt was right, just intuitively.
Jeff: The balance.
BS: It’s just so tricky doing horror and comedy. You want it to be funny and you want it to be scary and that was ultimately, for Fran and I, our mutual mantra going into it, was maintaining stakes. We wanted to maintain that the threat of death and the threat of evil is actually real, because otherwise, this is going to turn into a goofy joke that people are going to get tired of. The cool thing about Sam and Chuck was that they were involved all the way through. Sometimes I would be able to send them pages like “hey, does this sound like you guys?” or “need an idea for a line here.” And they would be able to shoot stuff over. So it was cool because their touch was still on it throughout. But Fran’s also right that it very much became ours because Fran and I really started guiding everything in the direction that we thought was correct. The movie is made three different times. It is written, it is produced, and then it’s edited and so, really, we had a completely new job to do now that we were on the set filming and Fran had a completely different job to do as far as being this guy.
Lindsay: Yeah, like, he is a real guy.
BS: Like, ya, that was funny, but now someone has to do this stuff.
Lindsay: Fran, you’re no stranger to horror comedy, Brett, you’re pretty familiar with horror, how do you think those interact? How do you think your horror chops lend to comedy and the other way around?
FK: You were saying formulaically they’re sort of the same thing in terms of rhythm.
BS: Ya, what it is, is it’s, um. I am not gonna quote Hitchcock because I am gonna botch it and I am horrible at direct quotes, but I remember reading Hitchcock in a conversation talking about something that I later heard Wes Craven echo, which is that, horror and comedy should be the exact same thing. It is a set up, and a delivery, all in the timing, leading into an effective punchline. That punchline is ultimately delivering a laugh or it’s delivering a shriek. So the whole idea of, otherwise the film making and the methodology and the mechanisms of the machine are identical, just the product is different. You have to keep your fingers on the pulse of your audience in the same way and you have to be aware of the timing of your delivery, like you do in both, and ultimately deliver the most effective moment in the most effective way for the audience, whether that is in a scary way or a funny way. The other thing that Fran and I talked about a lot was that I think that they are inherently similar because all of my funniest stories have to do with my friends being freaked out or me being freaked out. I know it’s Halloween and Halloween Horror Nights is going on and, I don’t go because I am too scared. And if I do go, it’s because my friends just want to laugh at me the whole time because I am purely terrified, but my reactions are purely ridiculous. And I have no control over them. It is what it is. So I think there is a lot of inherent comedy just in being straight scary. And I think that’s what Fran was bringing amazingly to it. If I generated real tension and real suspense in a moment and constructed something that felt scary, that Sam’s reactions alone to it could be whatever they needed to be as long as they felt honest. Whether it is jumping and shrieking or passing out or whatever it is, as long as it is honest, the comedy is fair. What we didn’t want was to be all shticky.
Lindsay: What sold you on Fran and Alyson (Hannigan) for Chuck and Sam?
BS: Well I was never actually sold on Fran.
Lindsay: Okay great, moving on.
BS: What was funny was, Sam, I knew I needed him to be, I needed someone who could be as dramatic as they could be funny. To be as serious as they could be funny and also be instantly likable. I have been a fan of Fran’s for a while and Fran kind of embodied that. Alyson did as well. I needed someone who the audience would accept as being really knowledgeable and I know that that’s a role that she has played very famously before. I also wanted someone who felt really sweet and really likable because Sam has a very bold introduction in the movie. You are introduced to Sam very clearly, whereas Chuck, you kind of just, you have to be on board with Sam quickly, but you have to be on board with Chuck even quicker. And so I knew I wanted Chuck to be someone we would trust very quickly and like very quickly. I just personally feel like I really lucked out because I got my first choices right out the gate. It was a situation where I didn’t have to keep going back to the drawing board. I just hoped and felt like I won.
FK: She (Alyson) has such a tricky role because she is essentially giving advice to a murderer. She is sort of this accomplice and has to do it in a truthful way. Forget being charming or funny, and likable, you sort of have to, and I don’t know how she did it. I think it is a much trickier part than I had to do, despite all the physical aspects of what I was doing and playing all those stakes, she had, intellectually, what I think is a very tricky thing to pull off supporting someone that’s potentially killing a lot of people.
BS: It was actually really hard to do in the script, but like, even harder to calculate going into production how Chuck could be someone who expresses enjoyment in what is happening without feeling sick and sinister. It’s like, how do you toe that line? And to her credit, she does it. And she did it with very little help from me. She just came in and knew how to do it and made a job I was really nervous about, way easier.
FK: Very funny.
Lindsay: Before we let you guys go, you have to answer this because you are doing a meta-horror film; what’s your favorite scary movie?
BS: I love that question. Fran, I don’t know if I know your favorite scary movie.
FK: I will pick Friday the 13th part 4.
Lindsay: That is such a good answer.
FK: It is the most meta.
BS: Wait, which one is the fourth one?
FK: With Corey Feldman. Jason is already a thing in the world at that point.
BS: That’s right.
Lindsay: Red chevron Jason.
FK: I feel like it is fairly meta within its own world. It is sort of commenting.
BS: Before meta was even a thing.
FK: I mean, it’s not comedy but it is sort of playing on the fact that everyone is sort of aware of the myth of Jason in this one. And it is kind of neat.
Jeff: And you put Crispin Glover in there, there is going to be comedy.
FK: Of course.
Lindsay: And you make him dance? What’s better than that?
BS: Crispin in anything is good. I love The Thing. That is my all time favorite because growing up my dad was a police officer, and I grew up thinking, when men are big and tough, I don’t have anything to worry about. Then I watched The Thing and I am like, all these men are big and tough, and they’re scared. I am screwed.
Lindsay: Uh oh. I can’t bench press my way out of this one.
Jeff: Nothing gives you trust issues like The Thing.
Our discussion of The Thing and the upcoming screening of Overlord descended into these Canadian interviewers detailing Wyatt Russell’s hockey career and potential growth into his namesake as a horror icon.
You can catch YOU MIGHT BE A KILLER on October 29th at 9:00pm EST on SYFY.